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Pledgerunner is still in it’s infancy.

The company is barely able to walk, but we are up and running! For 2014, we learned some hard lessons in working the conference exhibits, using social media, and doing multiple product launches, re-launches, and re-re-launches. In short, we’ve had a crazy ride, and we’re still on this crazy train heading into 2015! The big difference this time…

We’re dropping the crazy part.

Here’s a quick look back on the lessons learned and our plan of action moving forward.

As Yoda once said, “There is no try, only startup.”

I think that’s what he said.

Exhibiting at conferences…specifically, SXSW

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I was warned ahead of time that this would be a financial bullet to my head. Bullets don’t taste good…neither does eating crow.

Lesson Learned

1. You need to be present. Period.

Due to scheduling conflicts, and trying to be everywhere at once, my wife and I had to travel to DC, while my team of interns enjoyed SXSW alone. This is an EPIC F! There needs to be a subject matter expert onsite. If you can’t make it to SXSW – and you only have a skeleton crew – then forego this until you can make it.

2. If you have a product demo that’s all web – this should be on autopilot.

Use KeyNote, Powerpoint, Google Presentations, or static pictures. Hell – use construction paper if you have to – don’t rely on WiFi. Reason: Your hard drive (or construction paper) is way faster than bandwidth.

3. Don’t show up late.

If you’re late to SXSW as an exhibitor – you will be fined. It’s in their contract, so no excuses, or it will cost you. We were fined, a lot of cash, which put a dent in our budget. Again…no excuses.

4. And lastly, make sure your team gets along with one another, or team members will walk.

And if they do…you are fined. That’s also in the contract (under  – “you can’t leave before the conference ends…”). Were there team member conflicts? Yes. But the team members had their reasons. It’s all water under the bridge – and I’m appreciative for everyone’s effort, albeit – it was the worst time to find out that you guys didn’t get along. It really would have been a “nice to know” beforehand – but things happen. I still have respect for everyone involved, because without them, we never would have made it!

Plan of Action

We are heading back to SXSW for 2015 and our perspective has changed, dramatically – 100%. We have a fine tuned game plan. We have our MVP (well, more on that below). And – we – I mean…my wife, reviewed the contract this time. As a side note, since SXSW, we actually improved our efforts at NTC and WebSummit and we learned how to network properly, making great contacts and learning something new each time.

 

Social media: Is there a recipe for this?

Trying to leverage the mighty sword of social media has led to some odd pairings. For example, sharing healthy meal recipes on LinkedIN was a big mistake (which we corrected…move along). Our Facebook page is growing, while our Twitter stream is getting thinner. Which was weird, since we were using the same posts, but obviously there’s a different audience? As for Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Stumble, Rumple, and whatever else we’re on – our social media ride is a moving target that needs a guru…

Lesson Learned

1. Don’t feed the same message.

Our Facebook fans don’t care about what we do on LinkedIN, and vice versa. To make things easier, we use (and love) Hootsuite, but we’ve been using it wrong – all wrong. There needs to be a balance to all of this – so treat each medium with care and attention. If you don’t then your social media streams become convoluted and lopsided in growth.

 It’s all about balance, balance, balance – which means you can still share certain messages across your “social-verse” – but do it correctly and do it for your audience.

2. Reach out to people who can help you – or at least read their books.

Trying to go all “Social Commando” alone is not the way to do it. What do I mean? I mean – (1) finding something to share on your social stream and (2) posting it across all streams and (3) moving on to the next – is easy to do, but a dumb procedure to follow.

 So the effort has been shared and we are learning as we grow.

Also, tap into the mighty tomes of Seth Godin, Eric Ries, Laura Busche, Andrew Chen, Chip and Dan Heath, and Michael Hyatt. These guys know their stuff. Just to be clear, after reading blog posts from Andrew Chen – I felt like I was 10 years old and he was giving me a much deserved spanking for being a bad child.

Yes…it felt exactly like that.

Plan of Action

So – we’re cleaning house and starting over. With LinkedIN, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the like, we have a different market for each – and we will build accordingly. Also, a buddy of mine, Kevin S. said “…use your onsite blog, DUH!” Got it. We started doing that – but in 2014, we let the cobwebs grow thick. I think there’s actual rust on the HTML…

 As a kickstart – we will add content to our dry gulch of a blog – starting with this wonderful post.

At the end of 2015, we hope to move the needle a bit higher, and look back on this and smile.

 

Product launch, reboot, then launch again…

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Pledgerunner is on a limited, open beta release, but we’ve been looking at our development process from a myopic perspective. We’ve been building feature after feature after feature, and we grew in that direction instead of looking at what really, truly mattered.

 Also, we never measured the outcome of our efforts – at least not properly. As we built a feature, we assumed it would be liked and used. We would reboot and assume the best.

Wrong!

It’s not about features for our MVP. In fact – that goes against the tenants of an MVP.

It’s time to jump on that lean road ahead…

Lesson Learned

1. Love the traction…but hate when it dies

We kept thinking that we nailed it, based on quick feedback – but then we drop a release and the response slowly dies. What was the problem? How would we know what went wrong? Well, we didn’t have key measurements to identify the reason at first. Google and New Relic to the rescue…

2. Features? We don’t need no stinking features!

From the available and most welcomed guidance of Eric Ries and Andrew Chen, no one gives a sh*t about features. It’s about being a barebones, ready to rock MVP that focuses on that one thing you want to deliver.

Deliver it and make it work – if not then you just spent a large number of  hours building something that nobody cares about.

This truly was a lesson learned AND this was our biggest mistake of all. Our advisor said it best when taking our demo for a spin – “…it’s not intuitive…”

That word clicked.

Plan of Action

Two things:  Zoom In and Measure. Period.

First, we’ve made friends with Google Analytics and New Relic. We are tracking and tracing. Watching and measuring. Reviewing and monitoring. This is important. This is vital. It is our new religion for 2015. Also, we’ve ripped up our interface. We know our bounce rate and a GOOD PART OF IT has something to do with our UX, which is aesthetically pleasing (to me anyway), but downright confusing and at it’s core, not so intuitive.

Updates are coming…see the pretty picture below.

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In conclusion…

… thanks for taking a walk through our retrospective. This was cathartic. It feels good to reflect on our actions and critique our experiences. If this can help anyone out there building a startup, especially one that focuses on causes and social entrepreneurship, then awesome!

Now, let’s bring in 2015 and a have Happy Kick Ass New Year!!!

Oh – but before I forget – I skipped on this last point, that I feel a need to share: we’ve been rejected by a number of accelerators and incubators as we reach out for help on this company I literally love dearly. The rejection is a bit painful at first, and not all of it is that bad, because sometimes we’ll get some great feedback. But most of the time, we get a quick and resounding “HELL NO!” – which resonates like a baseball bat swung up against my head.

Baseball bats hurt.

But in a weird way, it reinforces my drive and determination. In the end, it actually motivates me to keep going.

Now I feel all Unbroken…hit me again with that baseball bat and this time add nails!

Personally, I’d love to get the mentorship and seed money needed to keep this train going…if anyone has any thoughts on that, please share.

Otherwise, I will keep knocking on doors.
Someone will eventually answer.

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-John